Hurley served in the Indian Territorial Volunteer Militia during 1902–1907 and in the Oklahoma National Guard during 1914–1917. He fought in France in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He then returned to Oklahoma, where investments in oil and banking made him one of the wealthiest men in the state.
Following donations to Herbert Hoover's presidential campaign in 1928, Hurley joined the new Hoover administration first as assistant secretary of war in 1929 and then as secretary of war during 1929–1933. Hurley issued the order to General Douglas MacArthur to evict the Bonus Army from Washington, D.C., in 1932. When Hoover was defeated for reelection, Hurley returned to his business interests in Oklahoma.
When President Franklin Roosevelt sought to broaden his administration with Republicans following U.S. entry into World War II, Hurley was recalled to active duty as an army brigadier general. He served as special emissary to Australia, where he attempted unsuccessfully to secure the relief of U.S. troops besieged in the Philippines. He then held a succession of special assignments for President Roosevelt, including minister to New Zealand (1942) and special emissary to the Soviet Union (1942) and the Near East and Middle East (1943).
In August 1944 Roosevelt named Hurley as his personal representative to China, and three months later he became ambassador. Directed by Roosevelt to secure Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshi's cooperation with the communists to form a united front in fighting the Japanese, the uninformed Hurley instead fell under Jiang's sway and became an ardent champion of the Nationalist position of noncooperation with the communists. This put Hurley on a collision course with State Department "China Hands" John Paton Davies and John Stewart Service, who believed that China would fall to the communists unless Jiang's government underwent major reform and was purged of corruption. Hurley held that only communists could take such a stance.
Promoted to major general in 1944, Hurley returned to the United States in September 1945 and declared in the course of a speech that U.S. diplomats in China were refusing to carry out American policy, while in fact it was Hurley himself who was contravening it. Under mounting criticism he offered his resignation, which to his surprise President Harry S. Truman accepted in November 1945. In his resignation letter, Hurley made the outrageous charge that State Department officials had aided the communists and had prevented him from saving the Nationalist government.
Hurley then returned to New Mexico. An unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate from his native state in 1946, 1948, and 1952, he remained a leading figure in the right-wing China lobby. In June 1950 Hurley accused both Service and Davies of secretly passing information to the Chinese communists that enabled them to subvert the Nationalists. Although both men were cleared of this charge by the State Department, anticommunist crusader Senator Joseph McCarthy picked it up, and both men were driven from the State Department in 1953. Hurley died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 30 July 1963.
Spencer C. Tucker
Fairbank, John K. The United States and China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971.; Purifoy, Lewis McCarroll. Harry Truman's China Policy: McCarthyism and the Diplomacy of Hysteria, 1947–1951. New York: New Viewpoints, 1976.